Friday, January 10, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 10: The First Seeds of Doubt

Ten days. That’s all it took before the doubt began to set in. Should I really be doing this? Am I wasting my time? Look at all of the things that I could be working on right now! Perhaps I should be investing my time in a real project.

I’ve been here before and know better than to listen to these passing thoughts. Yesterday, it took me three hours to edit my 2,000-word entry. When you add that to the hour that I spent on the initial draft, it’s far too much time for a simple journal entry.

Still, it’s no big deal. Life goes on. I’m not stopping, not until I’ve finished out the month. I’ve already written over 12,000 words (including this entry). I don’t want all of that effort to be for nothing. Yes, I should probably limit my posts to a maximum of 1,500 words, but once I get going, it’s hard to stop. There’s so much that I need to get out that an abbreviated version doesn’t always suffice. To my detriment, I must allow these journals to exceed 2,000 words when necessary. The process is cathartic, and helps me get down additional thoughts brewing in my head.

Large amounts of editing always makes an author question themselves. It’s evidence that real projects take work; hard work, unlike text messages that can be typed up and shared in a few minutes, if not seconds.

Should I be more careful with my words? Probably. Should I nail down all of my points beforehand so that I don’t go too far off topic? Perhaps. Let’s not forget this is a journal. Anything goes.

Whenever I doubt myself, I’ll come back to this page. Just because something requires hours of editing doesn’t mean it’s time to abandon ship. It means the stakes are higher and now you have to get serious if you want to see it through.

This happens with most projects, even journals. I remember being overwhelmed by the editing task before me when I wrote the first draft of The Key of Neverhence. It was 77,000 words long and needed major surgery. I only rewrote ten percent of it before I decided that I really should be writing new content instead. When I had the chance, I’d get back to Neverhence. Seven years later, the draft still languishes. If I had done a little bit each day for a year, the novel would be published and earning money.

But that’s what a smart person would do. Please don’t confuse me with one of them.

Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged with the editing process. Break it down and tackle a little bit at a time. Even a couple thousand words can feel daunting, which is how I felt last night. But 500? You can do that in your sleep.

That’s what I started with and then quickly took a break. There, 25% done! I kept chipping away, little by little until it finally got done. Even though it only took three hours to whip it into shape, it felt far longer than that. (Authors are masters at playing mind games, which frequently backfire.)

The reality is that only a few sentences present real problems. Once I broke through those, I was able to go for a while before getting tripped up again. Perhaps I should have skipped over them? That doesn’t work for me. Often the sentence that needs work alters the chemistry of a paragraph and the ones around it. (I’m still getting a handle on the editing process, but eventually I’ll get it.) So if you’re stuck or your enthusiasm has evaporated, just remember that if you can get past one sentence, you’ll be good for a while.

Part of the problem stems from editing at the sentence level. What’s the point of making every sentence pretty if you lose sight of the story? Dean Wesley Smith pointed this out in one of his blog posts (I can’t remember which one but the sentiment is also buried here) and it really got me thinking. Would writers be better off editing at the story level and allowing their work to be rough? Besides, how we write is often how we speak. Are we polishing our voice right out of it by doing extensive edits? In fact, is that what I did last night?

If a writer allows their work to be more in line with how they naturally speak, they’ll produce a lot more. Boatloads more, actually. Editing deters prolific writing; the more perfect an author wants it to be, the less gets published.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. We all want to sound good and show off our knowledge of the craft. But simple sentences can be just as effective as meticulously crafted prose. You’ve got to hit the right balance, and it’s not always obvious until you’ve written a few books and read many more.

Sometimes turning off the mind is exactly what the doctor ordered. Can you imagine how much Guinness World Record holder Ryoki Inoue would have produced if he had indulged his self-doubt for a nanosecond? Would he have finished a fraction of the 1,100 novels that he wrote in his prime? Or would he have gotten discouraged and thrown in the towel before getting started?

Just to give you an idea of how prolific this guy is, here’s an article by Matt Moffett (The Wall Street Journal, May 2nd, 1996). In it, Mr. Moffett describes how Ryoki started “around 10” and wrote straight through the evening, finishing his 195-page manuscript “at 5:30 a.m., having consumed most of a packet of pipe tobacco and half a pot of coffee.” Assuming 250 words per page, that’s the equivalent of a 48,000-word manuscript in a little less than eight hours.

But that’s nothing. Apparently Mr. Inoue has a system for writing three books in one day. It just boggles the mind!

So why am I complaining about editing 2,000 words? Really, I have much to learn about the writing process.

When in doubt, just keep going. Turn off the negative voices in your head and don’t let anything stand in the way of success, least of all, you.

Day 1: 1,035 words
Day 2: 1,045 words
Day 3: 1,035 words
Day 4: 1,560 words
Day 5: 1,193 words
Day 6: 1,157 words
Day 7: 1,102 words
Day 8: 1,643 words
Day 9: 2,057 words
Day 10: 1,038 words
Total: 12,865 words

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